Michael Davis was born in North Carolina, but moved to Maryland as a teenager. In the next decade, he obtained a degree in Aerospace Engineering and a Masters in Operations Research. In the years that followed, he supported his family working for the military and intelligence sector. In 2005 he retired, moved to the Piedmont area of VA, and began his new life as a writer. His current fiction endeavors include: Tainted Hero, Forgotten Children, Blind Consent, Veil of Deception, and The Treasure
The answers are buried in the secrets of the past
The town of Tanglewood Falls offers breath-taking views, yet the serendipity is misleading. The impoverished people and their forgotten community have been unwittingly exploited. Their act of trust and blind consent altered their existence and the secret has remained buried, until Ryan returns to explore his heritage. For twenty years, he’s been haunted by confusing images, recurring dreams rooted in his past. He’s driven to understand their meaning, to obtain answers to his lost memories. Ryan’s search for truth collides with the folklore of the simple people and the belief that their beautiful Annie is blessed. Together, they unravel the mystery, but at a price. They become targets of those responsible for what happened to the town. As the truth is exposed, Ryan must grapple with his own reality; the fact that his past, his nightmares, and Annie’s secret, everything is entangled in the desperate act of one lonely man.
Ryan stared at the horizon and watched the stars vanish into the ocean. His eyes shifted to the dancing flashes of moonlight glittering across the water. From a bench positioned next to the boardwalk, he listened to the pounding in his head as the waves crashed against the beach. He glanced at the climbing tide and observed the sand castles from past visitors erode away.
He caught the moon’s reflection off the sign ten yards to his left, Dup’s Hamburgers and Fries above the closed concession stand. He watched as the clump of ketchup squirted onto his arm from the gorgeous blonde standing by his side. She apologized and admitted her mistake, but Ryan always suspected the accident was by design. She was like no woman he had ever seen, touched, or smelled. In a heartbeat, he knew she was the one.
He had never experienced such peace, such happiness, as when they were together. The strongest memories, those that still flooded his senses, were when they made love; completely blinded by their attraction for each other. Everything was still there: the taste, her scent, and the pleasure.
He jammed his hands against his ears and pressed hard to drive out her voice, her laugh. He pushed against his eyes until the pressure caused flashes of light. He wiped his face with his sleeve, scanned the black sky, and tried again to grasp the reason. He rubbed the skin on his knuckles until the flesh turned red.
I was the one that set things straight. Is this your answer? You can’t be that cruel. Is this some form of divine justice?
His quest for an answer was returned by silence, except for the sound of the waves against the shoreline. The rhythmic noise hammered his eardrums. The terrible images of what he had experienced tonight flashed like a beacon inside his brain.
He searched the horizon for an answer, for relief, but there was nothing. In rebellion for his loss, his agony, Ryan replied to the silence in the only way he knew how. He gazed into the speckled night sky and with a harsh crackling tone, he yelled at no one. “If this is your idea of justice, then the hell with you!”
After an eternity, the faint hue of gray at the edge of the stars signaled the approaching sun. He watched the white surf form a backdrop for the spectrum of colors bathing the debris line on the beach. He smelled the brackish odor of foam mixed with seaweed and water soaked driftwood cast onto the shore.
The first rays of morning light announced the arrival of a fresh beginning. The ballet of nature’s constant struggle with itself began as the gulls circled above the shoreline searching for morsels to fill their empty gullets. A fiddler crab raced toward the surging tide and braved the onslaught of diving predators. The crab and two gulls played a harsh game darting back and forth along the waterline. One bent on escape, the others fighting against hunger. After several missed attempts, one of the gulls swooped down and captured the fleeing prey. The winner tried to race off with its bounty, only to have the second bird execute a midair dogfight. After several attempts, the thief ripped the prey free and chased the crab as it plummeted into the temporary safety of the water. The fiddler floated at the surface to tease the hovering tormentors at his momentary victory, while the gulls squawked and squalled blaming each other for their loss. The brief splash and swirl of a fin marked the price of the crab’s mockery. The dolphin flipped her snout at the losers’ overhead and tossed down her morning meal.
Ryan examined the cruel reality of nature’s riddle played out in the surf. The undeniable truth that some must perish so that others can survive. The commotion somehow pushed back the grief and blocked out the memory long enough to catch motion between the series of tuff covered mounds of sand.
A family slowly drudged through the loose grains of silica, hands bulging with baskets, blankets and toys to support their outing. Once they broke beyond the edge of the dunes, the sight of waves rolling against the shore caused the two children to drop everything. They yelled and screamed as each raced for the prize; the opportunity to be first wet.
The small toddler in the rear tried to pursue her siblings but stumbled twice against the soft sand. The clambering of young voices ripped Ryan back into his world. The sights and sounds of the children provided an abrupt awakening to his loss and his forgotten responsibility. “Emma.”
Julie tossed the bundle of string beans into the hand woven basket. She pressed both hands against the moist soil, pushed up on one knee, and slowly rose up off the ground. The shift in her center of gravity from the bulge at her waist caused her to teeter for a moment. She knocked the dirt off her palms, rubbed along the lower portion of her back and moaned. “Lord, she’s getting heavy.”
Julie pulled the ecru colored blouse down over her exposed belly and tugged at one of the threads dangling from the frayed edge of the hem. She turned toward Bear Mountain and sniffed the fresh rain blowing east across the distant fields blanketed with yellow wild flowers. She followed the flock of crows fleeing from the dark clouds as they raced toward the four-acre farm.
Julie watched the white flash pulse behind the clouds. She placed her left hand on the taut bulge in her abdomen and pointed at the approaching storm. “I think we’d better stop and get in the house. That storm is coming up mighty fast.”
May looked up from her kneeling position between the rows of beans. “I think you’re right. We’ll finish the rest tomorrow.” She picked up the basket of produce and the two siblings headed back toward the two-bedroom house with the cracked mildew stained siding. From behind, May watched her pregnant sister waddle along the dirt path. May pulled in line with Julie and examined her innocent face. As each step shot pains up Julie’s back, May considered what was in store for the naive girl. “Have you told him yet?”
“Please, May. Let’s not go over this again. I’m tired. My back is killing me, and nothing you say is going to change the way I feel about him.”
“Sweetheart, you’ve been left by yourself with a child. It’s you that will bear the burden for one moment of poor judgment. He got what he wanted, left his seed behind, and where is he now? He sure ain’t beside you, is he?”
“It took two of us. I knew what I was doing when it happened, and I’m not sorry for it. Not one bit.”
Glancing at her sister’s stomach, May vented her frustration. “Was this in your plans, to be saddled with a baby to take care of on your own? What were you thinking, child? Did you think he’d leave his wife and come stay with you? Hell, you’re not even twenty years old, and that selfish bastard is almost twice your age.”
“Stop it, May. It’s not like that. He’s a good man. Things are just messed up at home for him right now. I know he cares for me. When things change, I’ll tell him, and then you’ll see. He’ll be there for both of us. I know he will.”
“You know I love you. You’re the only family I have left, but you’ve been blind. You’re just too damn young. You have no idea of what’s in store for you and that child, how hard it will be for the both of you, for all of us. He’s used you, and when you do tell him, he’ll scurry away like the skunk he is. Now open the door for me. I just felt a drop of rain. Let’s go fix dinner.”
The two females arrived at the house and Julie pulled back the rickety screen door. “You’re wrong, May. What we have together is . . .”
The air exploded. The wooden doorframe splintered into several large fragments. The impact tossed both women into the air like debris from a bomb blast.
May opened her eyes to droplets splashing in the cool mud beneath her face. She wiped the mixture of dirt and water from her mouth and pushed up on her hands, but collapsed right back into the brown puddle. She tried again, but both her legs refused to obey. Everything below her waist was numb except for a searing pain at the base of her back, like her insides were on fire.
She struggled to roll on her side, but something blocked her movement. She screamed as another series of sharp pains charged into her brain. She reached around and felt a wooden projectile protruding out of her back, one inch above her buttocks. With one hard jerk, she yanked out the fragment and the piercing pain caused everything around her to blank out. After several minutes, the stinging sensation above her hips brought her back. She glanced at the blood soaked tip of the six-inch wooden sliver still locked in her fist. Then she saw the charred flesh along her forearm.
She looked in the direction where Julie had been moments before, but her sister was gone.
She wiped the rain from her eyes and searched the front yard. A flash of lightning removed the darkness and she saw her sister. Julie’s body was smashed against their eight-year-old 1974 Pinto. Her arms and legs were entangled in the clothesline that stood a few feet from the screen door before being struck by three hundred thousand volts of nature’s wrath.
May crawled through the dirt, into the house, and across the pine-grooved floor. She reached up and pulled down the phone from the small table. She dialed the phone and waited for someone, anyone that could help. “Beth, It’s May. Julie is hurt. She’s been hit by lightning. Please get help. I don’t know about the baby. Just get them here. Please, Beth.”
May dropped the receiver and scanned the room. She needed something, anything to set Julie free. She reached up to the kitchen table and grabbed a knife. She pulled herself back outside, crawled on her hands to the body lying rigid against the car, twisted like a pretzel in the knotted clothesline.
“Julie! Baby, wake up.” She looked up into the dark sky. “Please, let her wake up,” but there was nothing, no movement, no breathing.
She pressed her ear against her sister’s scorched chest. There was no sound, no heartbeat. “Oh dear God in heaven. Not my baby sister. Not Julie. She’s all I’ve got left. Don’t take her from me, please Lord.”
Her tears disappeared, mixed with the falling rain. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught movement in the midsection of her sister’s torso. It wasn’t breathing, yet there was something turning inside, something still alive.
She stared at the scorched face of her young sister, then at Julie’s stomach, and finally at the knife in her hand. She gazed up at the dark clouds swirling angrily above her.
“Sweet Jesus, why? Not like this. Help me to understand your way, please. What am I supposed to do?”
But there was no answer, no reprieve from her only option.
“I can’t let her die this way, Lord. Not both of them.”
May stared at the only life left inside her sister’s burned body. She looked at Julie’s face and begged for forgiveness at what she was about to do to her own flesh and blood. “Forgive me, Julie. Please forgive me, but I have to do it. Dear God in Heaven, I have no choice.”
She scanned the black clouds and pleaded. “Lord, give me the strength to do this terrible thing. Please show me the way.”
She looked at her baby sister’s face one last time. “I love you, Julie.”
May pulled up the soaked blouse, exposed the young skin, and pointed the sharp edge of the knife above her sister’s baby. “Guide my hand, Lord, and save this poor child.” Then she did the only thing she could do. The horrible thing forced upon her on an isolated farm in an insignificant valley perched at the center of a horseshoe shaped range of small mountains. With tears streaming down her face, she did what no civilized person should have to do to save their niece’s life.
She reached out, but he resisted. “Please understand, and don’t be mad at me. It hurts me inside when you’re mad at me.” She stepped forward, grasped his right hand and gently pressed his palm over her heart. She lifted his left hand, pressed it against her breast, and he felt the tremors in her body. “Look inside me, Ryan. There’s nothing but love for you. No desire to control you, just love for the only man I’ve ever wanted in my entire life.”
Through her tears, he began to see what was inside, how deeply she cared for this one man, and had kept herself only for him.
“Please don’t pull away. I couldn’t bare it. These years we’ve been apart have been so hard. I’ve spent so many lonely nights thinking of you. But I kept going, waiting and praying that you would come back to me. Please love me, Ryan, the way I love you.”
He realized he did love her. That first day he saw her without the dirt on her face, when Ryan looked into those green eyes, he understood it then, what was in her heart, but he denied the truth. Maybe he had always known, buried deep, hidden from his conscious mind, but still there at his core.
As he felt her chest pound, the dark shadows and sad memories from his past began to fade, replaced with warmth and peace. Ryan brushed the moisture from her face. “Anything else I should be aware of?”
“Not right now.”
He placed his hand at the curve of her back and closed the gap between their bodies. “Guess I can live with that. It’ll take some adjustment, a lot of adjustment, but we’ll work it out together.”
He lifted her hand and touched his lips to her wrist. He kissed her brow, her eyelids, moved down to her mouth. He lingered inside, tasted that sweet flavor, and inhaled her scent. He caressed her neck, felt her pulse quicken, her muscles tighten, her breath matching his, increasing with each touch.
At that moment, Ryan felt the physical urge and emotional need to be with this woman, the hungry to consume her, touch her, become part of her. There was no hesitation, no reluctance to put forth his feelings, his desires. There was no ambiguity. Everything was clear.
Her voice trembled. “I’ve waited so long. I feel like I’m going to explode.”
Ryan issued a low-pitched groan resonating from his throat as the hormonal fire raged through his body, a heat that could only be quenched one way. He lifted her up, cupped her in his arms, and placed her on the blanket.
He unbuttoned her shirt, pressed his face between her breasts, and inhaled her unique feminine scent. Somehow it had changed, become musky, transformed by the reaction of an aroused body. The intoxicating blend of honeysuckles, spice, and musk, it shot into his brain and stimulated his drive. His response shifted from desire to pure lust, a need to satisfy his primal hunger with her entire form.
In one moment, their clothes were gone. He studied her skin, her shape, with his eyes, his hands, and his mouth. He became enraptured by its beauty, its response to his touch. As he fell into her eyes, recognized her desire for him and him alone, his emotions blended together. Lust, tenderness, love, and a powerful yearning to be with her forever, to be inside her body, share her mind, her soul. All these strong emotions focused his longing for this one woman. He caressed her bare breast, watched as they pulsed and responded to the touch of his lips, the goose bumps encircling the protruded centers. He kissed down below her ribcage, across her naval, and continued lower.
Her mouth opened, widened, and then it closed as she bit down across her lower lip. Her eyelids pulled back, opened fully as she arched upward, pressed against his mouth. She felt the sensation, the tingling, rising from her legs up her back. As the waves rippled across her body, she moaned, again and again, until her entire body rose up to meet his caress. Her form locked in midair, shuddered, and then exploded with release. After an eternity, she settled slowly onto the blanket.
Ryan caressed back up her body. She felt his heart pound against her chest, his rapid breath against her face as she gazed back with contentment. He lifted her waist quickly with one arm, placed a sleeping bag beneath her rump and slowly, gently joined with her, became one with the woman beneath him. In the way that only a man and woman can bond. Carefully, they merged, two humans linked as one body, moving in harmony with their cadence. With each thrust, she sensed the warmth inside, penetrating deeper, and the echo of rain skating across the metal roof blended with the sounds of two lovers. Her moans of pain morphed with those of pleasure, and he knew the truth. She had waited all these years, for him.
As they moved together, he caressed her smooth soft skin, felt the flesh of her body absorb his heat. He increased their rhythm, pushed faster, and at the peak, it all disappeared. The shadows in his memories, the sorrow of his loss; everything vanished except her. For an instant, at the crest of their journey, they remained motionless, united as one, all their muscles strained, their nerves on fire. Then they floated back and collapsed beside each other.
After several moments, Ryan turned her body. He pressed his groin against her warm flushed buttocks. He lifted her hair, kissed behind her ear, and across her neck to her arms. He paused again to take in her enticing scent, now mixed with the lingering aroma of the passion they just shared. He traced his hand down the curve of her waist, along her thigh, and arched his arm across her chest. He held her tightly, until they both drifted off, together.
He returned to the pool, the green water by the beaver dam, but this time, he was no longer alone. They were together, floating nude on the surface. They moved below the ripples in the cold mountain water, but he felt warm and peaceful. He pulled them together. Their legs and arms entwined, until they were one body, one mind, and it felt right, like it was always meant to be.